“Pokemon: The Movie 2000” grossed $20 million in its first weekend. In a related story, I’m going to kill myself.
I’ve seen plenty of bad movies, of course, including the entire oeuvre of Freddie Prinze Jr., who is this generation’s Keanu Reeves (a comparison lost on people who think Keanu Reeves is suddenly a good actor just because he was in a good movie. Surrounding yourself with goodness does not necessarily make YOU any good, as Judas Iscariot would surely tell you). Usually, a bad movie spews forth its badness for two hours (three, if Kevin Costner is involved), I write a review, and I cast it from my mind forever, often with the aid of over-the-counter Butterfingers.
But the new “Pokemon” movie was different. This movie wanted to physically hurt me, apparently enacting some centuries-old grudge it holds against my family. For 90 minutes, it pushed me into a corner and beat me in the face with a 2-by-4. It held me upside-down and dipped my head in the toilet. Metaphorically speaking, it tied each of my limbs to a different horse and then fired a gun in the air. A thousand Freddie Prinze Jr.’s working around the clock for a thousand years could not produce a movie more loathesome than this. It’s an aggressively bad movie, a movie that won’t be satisfied until it has sprayed its foul evil on every inhabitant of the Earth, a movie conceived by Satan and produced by his Pacific Rim minions for the sole purpose of tormenting mankind with its hellish freak show of badly drawn characters and incomprehensible dialogue. I spent an evening in the emergency room after viewing it because so vile and filthy was the very thought of “Pokemon: The Movie 2000” that I jabbed a pen in my ear and tried to scrape out the part of my brain that remembered seeing it.
This is a movie that is not very good.
It is the story of some Japanese people, and how they’re not very good at animation. In fact, the Japanese word for animation, “anime,” literally means “lousy animation.” They have no word for “good animation,” or “animation in which the objects actually move,” because those concepts are unknown in Japanese culture. The movie also tells the story of some Japanese marketing guys who wanted to make some more money off a craze that died a year ago, so they said: “Don’t bother hiring artists or writers. We’ll just fling a bunch of Pokemon images at the screen, and then watch the money come rolling in. Get Satan on the line, and have him finance the project, which shouldn’t cost more than $12.”
OK, the movie is ACTUALLY the story of a boy named Ash who collects Pokemon so that he can make them fight whenever the situation calls for it, and pretty much EVERY situation calls for it. Then there’s a bad guy who wants to catch three particular Pokemon so that he can have control over the Beast of the Sea, don’t ask me why. Everyone yells a lot, and no one says anything funny, and half the time you’re wondering why they’re doing the things they’re doing, and when it’s over, you find yourself unable to speak coherently or perform simple arithmetic.
There is no art in “Pokemon.” It is an attempt to make money, pure and simple, with no regard whatsoever for talent, storytelling, entertainment value or anything else that is good, decent, wholesome or non-evil. Normally, a film with so little redeeming value would flop, unless Adam Sandler were attached to it. But not “Pokemon”! With a lot of kids still interested in the adventures of the video game-turned-TV show characters, the film will make money regardless of whether it’s any good (which, as I believe I may have inferred, it is not).
Greater philosophers than I have said that evil is most dangerous when it’s subtle. Run for president on the platform that, if elected, you will personally oversee the slaughter of every man, woman and child in America, and you probably won’t get many votes (though you’ll probably still beat the Libertarian candidate). But if you just say you want “reform” and “a rebirth for this nation,” you’ll be lopping off heads in the Oval Office before anyone even realizes what’s happening.
The arts are no different. If we allow mediocrity just because it seems harmless and our kids enjoy it, the people behind it will just crank out more, and soon our only entertainment choices will be the insidious garbage of which “Pokemon” is a perfect, horrific example.
Is this what you want? I hope not, or I weep for the health and safety of our nation’s film critics, as well as the people who have to put up with their whining.
Have I overstated the badness of the "Pokemon" movie? No. If anything, I have understated it.
The general tone of this column was greatly influenced by a book I was reading at the time called "Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese." Mike Nelson was head writer and on-air host of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and the book is a collection of essays about various films, types of films, and celebrities. It is hysterically funny, and Mike's style of writing is erudite and crisp. His plot summaries in the "Mystery Science Theater" episode guide had a lot to do with the laid-back tone I often take in describing movies and plays when I review them, and now his solo project influenced me enough to help me write this "Pokemon" thing.
Another contributing factor was that when I wrote the official review of the "Pokemon" movie, I made a lot of anime fans angry because I said the film employed the "characteristically crappy" style of Japanese animation. They took offense at the generalization that ALL Japanese animation is bad; I therefore took great care to make that generalization even more sweeping in this column, hoping to incur more of their amusing, poorly spelled wrath.
In those days we had a feature on this site where anyone could post comments without registering or using a real name or e-mail address or anything. We got dozens and dozens of comments on this column, many of them tiresome and/or obscene. Here is an archived version of this column from back then, with the comments preserved. And here is an archived copy of my review of the movie, which got a lot of comments, too.
In addition to the posted comments, I also got these official e-mails. The first one was technically in response to my actual review of the movie, but I'm posting it here because it's easier and I'm lazy.
I am sick of all of you Pokemon haters.
Please stop being so critical of things that other people enjoy. [If I ever write another book, this will be one of the quotes to go on the back cover.]
I was personally offended when in your review of Pokemon 2000 you clearly said that the movie would only entertain 8-and-under year olds. I was entertained by the last movie, and am well over the age of 8. you yourself were quite childish in your pathetic review.
No thanks at all,
And then this one, from a "Snide Remarks" fan's 18-year-old sister who, the reader tells me, thinks any actor who is good-looking is a "good actor":
I don't understand why people think Keanu Reeves is a bad actor. [It's probably because he's a bad actor.] I think he's a brilliant actor. There is no other actor who can act the way he does. [I have no argument with that.] He has his own style. I mean why would he have to prove that he is something more to the viewers by not being his style of character, to be a good actor. How can you measure the extent of a good actor. Just like with poetry. It makes me angry when people who don't know anything about acting think they can determine what is good acting and what isn't. HE'S A GOOD ACTOR!!! There is none other who can play his part. Eric D. Snider is a bad comedian!
Then we have this delightful missive from "He3r0yUy@aol.com." He says, and I quote:
man anime is better of what u can do....people acuatly like it unlike u i bet u cant do better cuz u suck!!WE RULE!!!!
That pretty much shut me up. I mean, how can I make fun of anime fans after a rebuking like that?
A while later, I got this e-mail. I don't know if it was in response to this column or to my actual review of the movie, but I think it was the column. At any rate, it went like this:
You don't even like Pokemon because you hate it!! my opinion is that pokemon will never end! so there!You piece of bull****
Again, I am speechless. "You don't even like Pokemon because you hate it" is one of the best bits of logical thinking I've ever heard. She's right: The reason I don't like Pokemon is simply that I hate it. What could be plainer?
In March 2001, I was treated to this missive from one "firstname.lastname@example.org":
Dude, [and that's pretty much where I stopped listening] why can't you be non-racist, anime is a lot better than some cartoons such as Cow and Chicken. Doesn't Pokemon the Movie 2000 remind you of Final Fantasy? Oh wait, you probably never played it or beaten it, if you haven't played Final Fantasy, you have problems.
I didn't realize all my troubles could be traced back to my never having played Final Fantasy. My therapist will be glad to know of this breakthrough.
And by the way, saying the Japanese aren't very good at animation is not a racist statement. Saying the Japanese are inferior people, that would be racist. But I didn't say that. Americans aren't very good at playing hockey. So what?